Save the Legs!

How Swimming Agility Training Can Increase Triathlete Efficiency

By Jenni Brozena, MS, CSCS, CES
Owner/President of Aqueous

Goggles fill with water. A recent storm leaves a harsh current. Algae and vegetation cloud the water. It starts to rain, yet the race will go on. These are all environmental factors with which triathletes are regularly faced.

It’s easy to train for each of these: make your goggles leak so it doesn’t seem like as big of a deal; turn up your Endless Pool® current really high; smear petroleum jelly in your goggles to cloud your vision; you can even have a hose sprayed from above your Endless Pool to simulate rain. But when it comes to training versus race day, triathletes can find themselves needing not just endurance and speed, but agility.

If you train in a pool, yet compete in the ocean, your stroke will feel completely different because the stroke needs to behave differently.

The foundational goal of swimming remains the same in either arena: perform linear acceleration in a straight line in order to reach the finish line through the path of least resistance as quickly as possible.

When you shift from the (mostly) still water of a pool to the strong pull of an open-water current, your stroke mechanics will change. The question is: will you let them change unconsciously and ineffectively, or will you intentionally adapt your stroke mechanics to achieve better efficiency and performance?

How do you navigate the chaos of a triathlon swim? Sports Scientist Jenni Brozena recommends that you "save the legs." That is, use her training tips to control your swim from the core, shoulders, and head for the necessary agility to deal with obstacles in the water.
Photo by mushu2011, some rights reserved.

“Save the legs” is conventional wisdom when it comes to the swim, so let’s apply it to swim training. If you are to “save your legs,” this means that you control between the different environments using the hip complex up through the core, the shoulder complex, the force production from the stroke itself, and the head movement involved in breathing, sighting, and changing directions.

First, let’s look at the pool environment. It’s controlled: calm in an empty lane or wavy with teammates, with clear visibility thanks to proper chlorine and pH levels. When swimming, core strength controls the body roll: hips and shoulders move together and a linear path is achieved throughout the entire length of the pool; without core strength, you’ll have a disconnect between the two regions, resulting in a zigzagging pattern that elongates the pool from 25 yards to 28 (or more).

Core strength will create an opportunity for an entry and catch during the stroke cycle that is primed for ultimate force production.

To train for race day currents, swim through a strong current in an Endless Pool, or have your teammates create turbulence in the lane and focus on maintaining a body roll during which your shoulders and hips maintain complete coordination. This creates the foundational strength for the potential of swimming agility.

The ocean or river has vegetation, wildlife, and most importantly the pull of a current which all combine to create the need for swimming agility. Can you maneuver through these obstacles while maintaining the chosen linear path? Still “saving the legs,” the training performed in the pool or Endless Pool will strengthen the core to control the body roll. Optimal force production can now be achieved regardless of the necessary directional, acceleration, and deceleration changes, which equates to swimming agility.

About: Jenni Brozena is an international sport scientist and Owner/President of Aqueous, an international organization empowering actionable engagement between aquatic athletes, sport science, human performance, and healthcare. Aqueous is dedicated to the deliberate treatment of aquatic athletes through the performance continuum including preparation, performance, and rehabilitation.
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